Unity: What is it?

"Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah." (Deut. 6:4.) This was the great central truth enforced by the Lawgiver on Israel. Round it circled all other. There could be one object of love alone, this one Jehovah, to whom every affection should flow (v. 5), and but one object of worship and service (v. 13) quoted by our Lord in answer to Satan. This great truth was in contrast to the idols of the heathen - gods formed out of the imagination of the heart, in reality demons, to whom every unholy desire and evil passion were consecrated, and who were worshipped according to the varied passions, lusts, or fears that moved the human heart.

There was beside but one place (12:5) where this one Jehovah put His name, and in which alone He could be worshipped. Not a single association with what was of idols could be suffered. No high place, or mountain, or hill, or tree, where other gods had been served, but must be destroyed, as well as every vestige of their worship, be it altar, pillar, or grove. Thus was the unity of the testimony committed to Israel to be maintained and preserved. God Himself the one Jehovah. The place of His name - "To His habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come." Every association with what was false had to be destroyed.

Connected with this was another truth; there was one people who were witnesses that Jehovah was God. (Isaiah 43:10, 12.) They were and are His people. This is attested by their redemption out of Egypt, by their going through the floods and not being overwhelmed, and through the fire and not being burned; and finally, created as they have been for His glory, by their establishment in glory when their Jehovah shall have destroyed all the power of the enemy, and delivered them from every false god and all association with the idolatrous nations. Consequently this people must be separated from all others on the face of the earth. (Exodus 33:16.) It was the company of Jehovah with them which made it necessary. They must dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations. (Num. 23:9.) In God's mind, too, the tribes of Israel were one. Not so in the mind of the enemy. Balak says to Balaam, "Thou shalt see but the utmost part of them, and shall not see them at all." Could not the part farthest off from the sanctuary be cursed? Nay, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel." It was in this uttermost part of the camp that the fire of the Lord burnt among them at Taberah. (Num. 11:2.) He can and will chasten His own; but Israel, in the vision of the Almighty, is seen by Balaam abiding in their tents according to their tribes, and he had to declare of the farthest tent and tabernacle, as well as of the nearest, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!"

That the twelve tribes were this one people before the Lord, was represented also by the twelve loaves of shewbread on the one table in the sanctuary, with the pure frankincense upon them. Practically they should have corresponded to this representation of them before the Lord. They, as all others, failed to maintain their place as Jehovah's witnesses, and in the unity of their tribes to go up to the testimony of Israel. Ten tribes under Jeroboam rallied round the calves of Dan and Bethel, and the iniquity of the other two obliged the Lord to go far off from His sanctuary and to scatter them among the heathen; but the twelve loaves, set in order before the Lord continually, taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant, with the memorial frankincense upon them, to be burnt to Him as most holy by a perpetual statute (Lev. 24:5, 9), was a figure that they have their place before Him continually (for God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew), according to the value of the frankincense upon the loaves; and in the end, gathered back from among the nations, they will be one nation, under one King and one Shepherd (Ezek.37), and there shall be one Jehovah, and His name One. (Zech. 14:9.)

"To us," says the apostle, "there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him." (1 Cor. 8:6.) Sweet and precious thought when we know Him, that "of Him, and through Him, and for Him, are all things to whom be glory." He, the centre, and as everything has flowed from Him, and is by Him, so must it be for Him. This opens to us another thought as to unity; for the one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and the one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, are not two but One - "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30.) And that is more than mere co-equality or co-eternity. His words were His Father's words. His works done in His Father's name bore witness who He was. In the salvation and care of the sheep His Father's and His own interests were identical, and whoever by faith had seen Him had seen the Father, while the rejector who hated Him hated His Father also.

Unity as to God thus being made known in a way different to the revelation made to Israel as a nation in the flesh, it came out through the rejection of the Lord in words and works - a rejection which set aside man in the flesh altogether - that the people who were to be witnesses of this unity must be placed on an entirely different footing. It was the death of Christ which opened the way for the gathering together in one of the children of God who were scattered abroad. (John. 11:52.) As Son of man lifted up out of the earth (12:32) He was to be the centre of attraction for all men. On earth the temple at Jerusalem was the religious centre, but those who boasted in it rejected Him who came in His Father's name, and that name was to be declared by Him on earth no longer, but from the place He took consequent on being lifted up out of it. Thus a people were going to be formed into a new unity; not an elect nation separate from all others with an earthly centre, but children of God, previously scattered abroad, now gathered in one, as the fruit of the corn of wheat which fell into the ground and died, His death closing the hopes connected with an earthly Messiah.

It is in view of His death and taking this new place in glory that the Lord speaks in John 17, and here we find unity spoken of in a threefold manner. He takes His place on high, to glorify the Father from thence, in becoming the source of eternal life to a people the Father had given Him, and the character of that life was the knowledge of the Father and the Son. But already on the earth there was a company to whom He had manifested the name of the Father, to whom He had given the Father's words, and who had known that He came out from the Father, and this company, the eleven, He asks the Holy Father to keep in oneness, "as we." (v. 11.) We see how intimately this is connected with their taking His place on the earth, and His being glorified in them; and in this request the desire of His heart is expressed, that those whom He had hitherto kept in the Father's name should be kept in oneness during His absence "as we," and in the power of the name of the "Holy Father." There was besides the fellowship of this oneness "for those which shall believe on me through their word." (v. 20.) The inner power of this fellowship is contained in the words, "That they may be one in us." This we see in 1 John 1:3, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." The outer expression we see in Acts 2:42-47. Alas! soon to be given up when grace became feeble in them, and the flesh began to work. What the Lord thus desired was, that there should be a unity of testimony rendered by the eleven, not of agreement merely, but of thought and purpose, "as we." And also that those believing through their word should be gathered into the fellowship of this unity, and become the manifestation on earth that the Father sent the Son, so that the world might believe it. In glory this unity will be fully accomplished. The day of faith over, the world will know, when the saints are seen in the same glory as Christ, not only that the Son came as the sent One of the Father, and thus as the manifestation of all the grace and truth which are treasured up in that name of Father, but also that the Father loved them even as He loved the Son. Precious consummation in the heavens of the display of the Father's love in the unity of glory, "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one;" as there will be the display on earth of the glory of the one Jehovah, when Israel will dwell together in unity.

If we ponder the words spoken by Moses to Israel, "Jehovah our God is one Jehovah," and those spoken by the Son when here on earth, "I and my Father are one," and the truths we have noticed as connected with either revelation, it should deepen in our souls the sense that all that is of God must gather to Himself according to His own blessed nature, whether in government for the earth or in the glory of His grace for the heavens. Both will be finally consummated; both should have been maintained as set up by God in their respective seasons. On the other hand, it is of the enemy to scatter and to lead man to propose himself as a centre of unity. At the very beginning of his history the devil said, "Ye shall be as gods." Self-exaltation and pride - the crime of the devil - entered in, and as a necessary consequence begat in man the evil heart of unbelief which departs from the living God. The ultimate issue was a scene of unbridled corruption and violence, which was swept away by the judgment of God in the flood. Afterwards we do not find a surging sea of unrestrained self-will and passion, government having been established in Noah for its repression, but the self-sufficiency of man expresses itself in an evil confederation at Babel to set up himself and his works. It was there they said, "Let us make us a name," there they joined together to build a city and tower of slime and brick which should reach to heaven (compare Isa. 14:13, and 2 Thess. 2:4), intending also to make it the centre of unity characterized by independence of God. Its character sufficiently marked its author; nor need we trace the workings of the mystery of iniquity from the time of its earliest germs seen in Babel onward, until the full result is reached in the Babylon of the Apocalypse and the man of sin, whose coming is after the working of Satan, to be assured that it was the arch-enemy of God who was then leading men into a unity of independence, which would culminate at the end in open revolt. What could a jealous God do - jealous that His creatures should turn to Him, not merely because He is supreme, but supreme in goodness and love - but scatter them abroad? Must He not gather to Himself in the supremacy of His own nature? Could He brook the pride and self-sufficiency that would do without Him and His love? Luke 15 tells us of the joy of the Father's bosom in receiving back the prodigal, first to His heart, and then to His home; and we thus learn what will be the joy, tasting it in spirit now, when all are gathered to the Father's house in the enjoyment of the love wherewith He loves the Son, folded up for ever in it, and displayed also as the manifestation of it.

This leads us to another thought connected with the sphere and vessel of the display of this unity, rather than its nature and character. We have seen that it will be perfectly displayed in glory, and that the first man having been set aside in death by the cross, the centre of unity now exists outside the earth altogether. The Son of man has been lifted up from the earth, and taken His place in glory. We have been reminded by a beloved servant of the Lord, now gone to be with Him, that while John speaks of the nature of what is to be displayed, Paul speaks of the sphere or dispensation in which it is displayed; but there are connecting links.

In John 20 we find those who had been scattered (luring those three days of His absence now gathered together by the news of His resurrection. There is a Person known as alive again, and this attracts them as to a common centre. It is in weakness and fear they are together, but on the evening of that first day of the week the Saviour comes into the midst of the eleven, and those gathered with them. They are the company on earth that the Saviour owns by His presence. Fifty days after, the same company, in principle, are together, and the Holy Ghost fills the place where they were sitting, and also each one assembled. They are owned by the coming of the Holy Ghost as the company now formed by His presence into the assembly of God - His dwelling-place. It has been sanctioned by the presence of the Saviour in its midst, and by the coming and dwelling of the Holy Ghost. The full revelation of this truth was not yet made known, though the fact was accomplished, nor the further truth that this assembly was the body of Christ. In the ways of God it needed that Jerusalem should consummate its guilt by the rejection of the Holy Ghost as the witness of a glorified Christ, ere it could be made known that the Son of man, who had been lifted up from the earth and taken His place in glory, was seated there as head of His body, and that He esteemed those who believed in Him as part of Himself, or that the assembly which had been owned by the presence of the Saviour, and the coming of the Holy Ghost, was the vessel in which was to be displayed the mystery of God. (Col. 2:2.) It is the man who wasted the assembly, and kept the clothes of those that stoned Stephen, who was chosen of God to minister the wondrous truth of the union of Christ and the Church, and to unfold as a consequence a unity such as never existed before, presented to us in the figure of the unity of a body with its head and members. We have to go back to the first man and woman in Gen. 2 to find a figure of the great mystery of Christ and the Church - "They twain shall be one flesh," but "He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit." Let us remember too, that the man was created in the image of God. He stood for God as the centre of the creation in which he was placed, and the woman as one with him. It needed that He who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, should take His place as firstborn from the dead, the beginning of the new creation, in order that He might become Head of the body the Church. In contrast with the first man who subjected every thing to vanity, He has made peace by the blood of His cross, and is the reconciler of all things to God both in heaven and earth, they are to be headed up in Him in the dispensation of the fulness of times. He is head over all things, but head of the body the Church. This body is now being formed by the Holy Ghost, and finally the church will be presented by Him who gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water by the word, in glory to Himself.

In 1 Cor. 12 we are told that it is by one Spirit that all the members have been baptized into one body; and further, that each has been made to drink of one Spirit. Each member is united to the Head, and each to each by the one Spirit, thus the unity is formed; but each has also drunk of the one Spirit who formed it, and there is therefore a living power of unity, It is this which we are exhorted to keep in Eph. 4:3. Moreover, whatever the gifts, ministries, or operations, the apostle insists that it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God, with whom they are connected. Had this been realized by the Corinthians instead of schism, unity would have prevailed amongst them; they would not have been puffed up for one against the other. Whatever the distance which formerly had existed between man and man - Jew alienated from Gentile, bond from free - God has now tempered the whole body together. The only middle wall of partition set up by God has been broken down, and of twain in Christ one new man is made, and both are reconciled to God in one body by the cross.

It is the former strict Jew, now a prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles, who exhorts to walk worthy of such a calling, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. In Col. 3 love is the uniting bond of perfectness, and the peace of Christ is to preside in our hearts, to which we are called in one body. How necessary that love should be active, and that the lowliness and meekness that forbears should take the place of self-assertion, in order that we should walk worthy of our calling.

The unity of the body can never be separated from its source, or it ceases to be a living reality. "There is one body and one Spirit." If the Spirit that forms the body be one, the body also must be one; nor could there be, as of old, a separate calling and hope for the Jew and another for the Gentile. It is "one hope of your calling." And if there is one Lord, there cannot be many faiths or many baptisms. It may be called the faith of God's elect, the common faith, the faith once delivered to the saints, the faith of the gospel, the faith which is in Christ Jesus, the mystery of the faith; but it is one, consequent on the recognition of the one person who has been made both Lord and Christ. The formation of different creeds and confessions of faith is the denial of the one Lord, and a source of division; and if the faith once delivered to the saints be a matter of doubt and perplexity, it is clear that the Church has been unfaithful to its deposit; for it is the pillar and support of the truth, not a truth; and Christ is "the truth," "the Spirit is truth," and "thy Word is truth," not a creed, though every thing in it may be true. All that is connected with Christ, as manifested here in flesh, and anointed by the Holy Ghost, or now as the glorified Man in heaven, testified of by the Spirit in the written Word, is the truth to be maintained by the saints.

Baptism also is intimately connected with the name and authority of the one Lord. Separate from that, it is easy to be divided as to the mode and subjects of it, or to be confused as to its signification - the name is all-important. Would it be one baptism if the subjects were baptized in the name of Paul or Apollos, and not in the name of the one Lord, and unto the full revelation of the name of God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? The spirit of the one baptism cannot be carried out if it be connected with the set of ideas held by this or that party.

The circle connected with the one Lord may be wider than the one body, because it depends on the professed acknowledgment of His title; and wider still in the whole universe is the confession of the one God and Father, who is over all, and through all, and in (you) all. A denial of His universal supremacy would be a denial of His Godhead. It is the fool who says in his heart "No God," the full-blown result of departure from Him; while the result of the heading up of everything in Christ will be that everything will be subjected so that God may be all in all. The saint now loves to own that all things are of God. He has drunk of the water of life which God gives to him that is athirst; he is brought to God to know Him as Father; and he forms part of that church which, as the heavenly Jerusalem, will descend out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. It will be the perfect display of the light that irradiates it. "The glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof." Not one saint composing it but will have arrived at complete conformity to Christ in glory, or there would be some parts of the city which could not ray forth the glory which fills it.

It is to every one of us, in Eph. 4:7, that grace is given according to the measure of the gift of Christ; no unit is left out, and the gifts for the perfecting of the saints, as well as for the work of the ministry, and the building up of the body of Christ, have been given by Him who has led captivity captive, and descended and ascended, that He might fill all things. That each individual saint should be perfected unto one is the care of Him who fills all things, and the gifts to this end are given "till we all arrive at the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, at a perfect man, at the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ." Paul could say, "The life I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." It was the Son of God whom he preached; for it pleased God to reveal His Son in Him. Paul knew Him, preached Him, and lived by the faith of Him. Each saint also will arrive at the unity of the faith as well as of the knowledge of the Son of God, and each is "predestinated to be conformed to the image of His (God's) Son." Thus the unity will be established in each individual unit. As each one now grows up into Christ, the body makes increase unto the edifying of itself in love.

Unity must flow from living connection with its source. That source is God - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Apart from that, it is the will of man working, and the power of the enemy behind it to produce disruption and confusion. We need simplicity of soul, singleness of eye, and the knowledge of God, to discern these truths, and the power of the Holy Spirit also, by whom alone we can act on the principle of unity, which would refuse everything that is inconsistent with the source of it - God in holiness and grace - and acknowledge only that which gathers to Himself according to the revelation given as an expression of it here. The moment we descend to human wisdom or effort, the rudiments of the world, or the arrangements of men, we deny the power that is formative of unity. May we know better the blessed source of this unity, which loves to gather to itself according to the perfection of that nature from which it flows. T. H. Reynolds.